Real Estate in Movies: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

One doesn't become successful at real estate sales without developing a keen eye for the beauty of architecture. Looking at home after home, sale after sale, you develop a strong sense of architectural beauty and style. Modern looks provide fresh, crisp lines and open spaces, where older buildings hold a beauty and a charm of their own. It's with this eye for designed charm you will find yourself finding hidden gems in surprising places. Like "Rosemary's Baby".

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The movie was on TV the other night, and though I'd seen it before I decided to revisit this Roman Polanski film. If you've not seen it, it centres around the young couple Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (played by Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes) who move into an apartment in New York's Central Park West. Their neighbours initially seem kind and friendly but gradually become more and more creepy and manipulative. Rosemary has a baby but comes to believe that her neighbours are part of a cult.

What makes this movie a winner (and I do recommend it) is the direction. Yes, it's an eerie tale and Polanski perfectly captures the paranoia of the story. Through truly deft camera work, you feel the shift in Farrow's character back and forth as she grapples with her situation of pregnancy, isolation and mental exhaustion. Polanski's use of the Dakota helps provide a building sinister backdrop to the movie, allowing the apartment complex to appear fine in the interim but gradually become more sinister.

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The Dakota apartment building in the movie

The Dakota building (called the "Bamford Building" in the movie) is an actual apartment building that comes with a wonderful history. The apartment complex is a prestigious building architected by Henry Hardenberg and opened in the autumn of 1884. The building is a wonderful mix of design. The outside offers a North German Renaissance feel with deep roofs, gables, niches and balconies. Meanwhile the interior is that of French design which was popular in the 1870s. The main entrance is large by today's standards, offering access by horse-drawn carriages, with stables for the horses. These stables have now been developed into condominiums.

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The use of the "building as a character" is as solid as the Overlook Hotel in "The Shining". All of this is combined with riveting performances by a fantastic ensemble cast of some of Hollywood's finest. In particular, Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer pivot between friendly and ghastly with ease in their performances of Minnie and Roman Castevet.

That said, it is Mia Farrow that makes this movie. Farrow careens through different emotions with ease and poignancy. From the innocent subtlety a housewife going through her day, to the joy and concern of becoming pregnant, the worry of only having income from her out-of-work actor of a husband, to the fear of her neighbours and surroundings, Farrow delivers. As we follow the Woodhouse's journey, we see a normal young couple worried about expenses, furnishing a new apartment, and surviving in an expensive New York City neighbourhood. It is this anchored reality of daily life that makes the surprises to come more vivid. "Rosemary's Baby" is almost 40 years old, but it still holds up. Definitely worth a look when you find it during a late-night channel surf.

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Mia Farrow in one of the most known scenes

But, what struck me most about the movie in a second viewing was the architecture of the neighbourhood and the apartment building in which the movie takes place. I found myself constantly being taken out of the story by the beauty of the building, the apartment and the setting. The last time I went to New York City, I strolled through the Central Park West neighbourhood and the movie took me back to that instantly.

Central Park West is set between 61st Street and 97th Street on the west side of Central Park. The homes, buildings and apartments you find there are a mix of late 19th century and very early 20th century homes. Architecturally, they provide a glimpse of the Old World, with Italian German and Flemish Renaissance design. That alone would make this neighbourhood stand out, but in and amongst the older buildings you will find much Art Deco with flashes of Gothic and Romanesque influences. This is the neighbourhood where "Rosemary's Baby" is set. Rightly so, as the neighbourhood and the apartment building itself becomes one of the main characters of the film.

Main rooms such as the bedrooms face the street with dining rooms and kitchens facing the courtyard. This provides the ability to air the apartment with a cross-breeze from both sides of the apartment; truly unique for the time. Another feature of the building is no two apartments were designed alike in their layout. You can see this in the film as you view the different resident's apartments. Every scene has its own feel and uniqueness because of this. It helps emphasize the sinister nature of the story, in nothing seems familiar no matter where you go.

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"Rosemary's Baby" is not the only reason the Dakota has become so notable. Notable tenants of the building include Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Judy Garland, Gilda Radner, John Madden and Joe Namath. Most famously, John Lennon lived in the building and was tragically shot outside the building's south entrance, providing a site of pilgrimage for Beatles fans around the world. Yoko Ono still has apartments there to this day.

The building was designated a New York City landmark in 1969 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Thinking of moving in? Apartments range in price from $4 million to $30 million. Bring your wallet.

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The Dakota in the late 1880s | Source: WikimediaCommons

Indeed you have to be in the mood for a movie as surreal and provocative as "Rosemary's Baby" but if you look beyond the story and look deeper into the setting, you'll find gems like The Dakota that become stars themselves.

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13 comments on “Real Estate in Movies: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

  1. For me, not seeing the baby gave power to the group of satan worshipers…somehow it translated that they were only part of a very large following..don’t know how that worked…it just did. Like something so spectacular that you cannot see it.

  2. Two movies scared the bejesus out of me, Rosemary s Baby and The Excorist .Can’t watch either one to this day and I’m 63! And I saw part of Rosemary s Baby being filmed. The scenes when Kia Darrow is running down Central Park West and the other was when she is in the phone both on the corner. Took hrs to film!!!

  3. It’s so fucking creepy. It just fills you with this sense of ominous terror, without resorting to any jump scares. An absolute master-class in tension.

  4. Funny how people interpret things differently and what has more significance. That’s the hallmark of a good movie.

  5. The movie is about Rosemary’s struggles (maybe/maybe not specifically as a woman) – trying to find/keep her identity as a dedicated wife, soon-to-be loving mother, & good neighbor, trying to fit in/feeling out of place (an Omaha girl in the Big Apple), finding/losing her spirituality/religion (“I was brought up a Catholic… now, I don’t know), etc. So it’s not about “the baby”. I’ve heard/read so many complaints from people who watch this movie then all they say about it is “I wish they’d shown the baby.” Ugh. Sorry, just my opinion, but there it is. I also believe that the whole devil/witches cult-thing can almost be considered incidental – at least for the movie, not necessarily the book (btw, the baby’s physical appearance is described in the book, if anyone is interested).

  6. It is a terrific subtle movie. Much scarier than the bloodshed, violent crap with saws and other horrors that they make so many of today.
    @Cheryl Jones What do you mean by “what the movie really is about”? Not just devil cult? (Btw, am from Nazareth, Pa.)

  7. I always wanted a quality follow up to this movie. I loved it. So creepy and yet so “normal”. They made a cheesy TV movie back in the early 80s,What Ever Happened to Rosemary Baby. Pure TV schlock!

  8. Just re-watched this last night w/ the hubby. Great movie! Very creepy, especially Ruth Gordon. A well-deserved Oscar for her. The ending is GREAT! Anyone who thinks the baby should have been seen doesn’t get what the movie was really about.

  9. I loved the ending. All and all, she was a mother and she wasn’t going to let the have her baby

  10. In another director’s hands this could have been just sensationalistic trash, but Polanski made it a work of art.

  11. Never been big fan of Mia, but she was superb in this chilling, scary, and terrifying masterpiece from Roman Polanski. The love scene with satan and the ending are classic.

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